4 Ways to Tune Your Vocal Recordings

Apr 03, 2023
Singer success path to recording vocals in Pro Tools

In this article I'm going to tell you about the four vocal tuning plug-ins I use, what I love about them, and why I would use one over the other, or in conjunction with another. If you're a great singer who sings in great pitch, you'll like get away with using Autotune because it pitche corrects you to the very closest note you're singing. So if you're already close, this will work perfectly. For more control, precision, and natural tuning sound, read about all four!

Antares Autotune Pro

My go-to, I use this the most! There is a little stigma around the use of Autotune that I'm happy to debunk. All of the greatest performers in the music industry use this powerhouse plug-in. The uneducated masses just assume that if you use Autotune, you can't sing. This couldn't be further from the truth. Don't feel embarrassed to use this. If you use it correctly, you'll be among the experts in the industry.

The biggest thing to keep in mind with the importance of tuning is that everything on Top 40 radio is perfectly tuned. Possibly Adele is the only one without it. As listeners, our ears have been trained to become accustomed to perfect tuning. If you do not tune, even if you're singing really really well, the masses will sense that something is off, and assume you can't sing.

The Retune Speed setting in Autotune essentially regulates how much of the pitch correction "effect" is being applied. Your voice will sound robotic if you set Retune Speed from 0–20, making it too perfect (the famous Autotune T-pain sound). Your singing will sound natural and in tune if you set Retune Speed a little higher, between 35 and 55. 

To use Autotune quickly when you're recording vocals, simply set your Key and Retune Speed and you'll be good to go. Keep in mind, the closest note in the key Autotune is set to is what it will pull you to, even if you unintentionally sing too sharp or too flat. For example, if you sing an F note while in C major scale but it comes out too flat, Autotune may pull you to an E. Minor Second intervals are always my trouble zone! So, you still need to sing somewhat in pitch in the recording studio. 

If you happen to drift to the wrong notes in your key, I have a sneaky way for you to fix this with our next plug-in...

Waves Soundshifter

If you open the Waves Soundshifter Pitch plug-in, in Audiosuite if you're using Pro Tools, or by using the bounce in place function in other DAWs, you can process the one or two words that are falling too flat or sharp triggering Autotune to tune to the wrong note. Just increase or decrease the "cents" by say 10-15 cents to boost the frequency of your trouble words, process them in place, and now they will be a little closer to the correct note so Autotune can pull it to the right note ;)

Good to point out, Soundshifter comes with a few plug-ins that you might find handy in different situations, making it a plug-in that I believe everyone should have on hand. If Ableton happens to be your DAW, then you already have the best stock time and pitch shifting there is. But, I suggest Waves Soundshifter for Pro Tools recording, Logic, and the rest of us when it comes to time-stretching and pitch-shifting audio. With Soundshifter Parametric, you can change the tempo of audio, and it sounds pretty good! There may be some artifacts and glitching if you pitch or time stretch too far. The Graphic Soundshifter tool, which produces the "screwed" effect, is another cool feature that comes with it. You can manipulate audio to sound like it's slowing down, speeding up, or melting in pitch. Most people may be familiar with a similar plug-in called Vari-fi.

Waves Tune Real-Time

Another great Waves plug-in that performs very similar (but not superior to) Autotune. Digital software is not flawless. Sometimes Autotune misfires and fails to recognize the audio being processed through it or produces glitchy sounds. I experience glitches mostly when I sing super loud. If I lower the "tracking" option in Autotune to under 20, the problems do occasionally go away. That, however, may also result in brand-new issues. Thus, using Waves Tune Real-Time to tune that section is my fallback strategy. 

It looks very similar to Autotune - you'll select your key, the type of scale you want to use, and Note Transition Speed to get started. There is a cool parameter that Autotune lacks. Notice on the keyboard there are purple dashes above the keys that are not in your scale, these dashes show which notes Waves Tune will avoid. If you click on a purple dash, it changes into an arrow, and when you click it again, the arrow points the other way. What this does is tells Wave's Tune to give your audio an extra push in the arrow's direction. I tend to sing flat when I'm recording, so I'll sometimes point an arrow to the right on my trouble notes.

Finally, we have Melodyne

Melodyne, by Celemony, provide's the ultimate tuning perfection. However, it's not automatic. You have to work hard and tune by hand and ear. I reach for Melodyne in two cases: when it's a song that deserves a very genuine, very natural sounding performance that may even have some pitch bending in it, OR when the song is kinda hard and I'm just not nailing my performance and can't rely on Autotune to help me out.

 You can truly make the worst singers sound pretty darn good with Melodyne magic. You can grab individual words are move them up and down the scale to the correct note. The "modulation" tool acts similar to Retune Speed, so the more you use it the more robotic it will sound. You can actually avoid using the modulation tool all together and rely on simply moving the notes to the correct place. 

My personal approach to using Melodyne is to place a lot of cuts wherever I notice the pitch curve (which looks like a squiggle line) drifting up or down in a way that would suggest either a note change is occurring, or where a held note appears to be drifting too much from the correct note. In these cases, I use cuts to separate the part of the note that is drifting and snap it into place. Next I select everything, and double-click to snap to the scale grid. The squiggling line that travels across orange blobs represents the pitch we hear, while the orange blob is the average pitch center. Even when a blob is snapped to a note, if the squiggly line is drifting far up or down, the real note being heard is the line. I made several cuts to bring the squiggle as close to the center of the blob as possible because it can still sound out of tune otherwise. It does work well to use the "modulation" tool to move the squiggle toward the center of the blob, however, the more you modulate it, the more it will start to sound like T-Pain.

I then start shifting blobs up or down to the correct note if my ears tell me to. I'll decide to use the "modulation" tool to further tighten the tune once every note is in its proper place, but typically only on certain words (often when my vibrato gets too crazy).

The transition between notes can be smoothed out if it sounds too robotic by increasing the "pitch drift" between notes. 

By extending individual notes with extreme accuracy, Melodyne also allows you to fix timing issues with your singing. You can alter the volume of a single word as well. As I move notes by ear, I personally don't bother choosing the key in Melodyne, although it is a choice that could help you save some time.

If you are a Pro Tools users, the recent advent of Melodyne ARA has made my workflow insanely fast as I no longer have to use it as a plug-in. Absolute game changer. 


Assess your vocal recordings and workflow needs to decide which tuning plug-in to get. I do like having all 4, but if you can only budget for one, choose Melodyne for perfect if you have more time on your hands to tune everything by hand, or choose Autotune if you're a more accurate singer for the best efficiency! 

If you're just getting started learning to record vocals from home, WOOOHOOO! I'd love to help by sharing my free workshop. Learn my 5 step Recording Routine to see how I record vocals from home for all my clients! It's under 30 minutes, and I'll show you my 5 step framework that I use every time I record. 

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